Leader Blues

Saturday, March 01, 2008

TOP STORY > >Prosecutor’s husband promoted in Iraq

By RAY BENTON
Leader managing editor

Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain is running for Second Division circuit judge against Judge Phil Whiteaker, so when she spoke to the Cabot Rotary Club on Tuesday at Colton’s Steakhouse, she wasn’t supposed to campaign at the meeting.
Instead, she spoke mostly about herself and her family, including her husband Bruce, a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard who is serving in Iraq as commander of the 871st Troop Command from North Little Rock’s Fisher Armory.

McCastlain said her husband had recently made the colonels’ list and will be pinned full bird in a ceremony soon.

The prosecutor became emotional when talking about her husband’s absence and cut that portion of her speech short. But in a telephone interview from Iraq, Col. McCastlain was happy to talk with The Leader about his experiences since he arrived in Iraq last summer.

Col. McCastlain is commander of an installation called COB (Contingency Operation Base) Adder in Tallil in southern Iraq. It’s an installation with a population of about 11,000, and McCastlain likens his duties to that of a small-town mayor.

“That’s to put it in a nutshell,” he said. “We do fire protection, police, infrastructure. We have road projects and building projects, zoning and planning. We coordinate and plan everything from sewage, to water to electricity services.”

Tallil doesn’t see a lot of combat. McCastlain’s command has not had to go out and engage the enemy. While that is a relief to the prosecutor and the couple’s 6-year-old son, it’s still difficult and worrisome back home.

“You can’t even imagine the feeling at that moment of separation,” Lona McCastlain told the Rotary Club. With a cracking voice she continued, “It’s absolutely excruciating.”

The colonel also talked with The Leader about his recent promotion.

“I guess if you get right down to it, it’s been in the works for about 22 years,” Col. McCastlain said of the time it took to make colonel.

He has been a lieutenant for four years, long enough to apply for consideration for colonel.

“You enter your packet after you’ve been a lieutenant colonel for so long. The board meets and they evaluate your packet against everyone else of the same date of rank and see how it stacks up.”
McCastlain found out a week ago he made the list.

“I’ve sort of been walking around on clouds since then,” he said. “I’m about to split my lip from grinning so much.”

Col. McCastlain credited others for his promotion and spoke openly about his faith, something his wife also did on Tuesday.

“God is everything to me,” Col. McCastlain said. “Our faith in God is first for me and my family. It’s first and foremost in everything I do. I understand where my blessings come from, and I understand there are trials and struggles in all of it, but we never stop being thankful to the Lord.”

He also gave credit to his team.

“I’ve been very fortunate with my team I’ve got over here with me,” he said. “We all work hard, put in some long hours and everybody has done a superb job. That’s just another area where God has blessed me. I can’t be successful at anything unless I’m surrounded by people who know what they’re doing and will work hard. And I’ve had an outstanding team. They make my job easy as commander, they really do.”

Col. McCastlain’s command received orders in May and mobilized to Camp Shelby, Miss., on June 9. After two months there, it went to Kuwait for a week before entering Iraq. He expects his command will be home sometime in late April.

“I can’t say for certain because how long it takes to get home once our deployment is complete is based on a number of factors,” Col. McCastlain said. “I suspect I’ll have a good month of campaigning to do once I get home though.”

Col. McCastlain said he couldn’t discuss his wife’s campaign for judge while he was on duty, but he added, “As soon as I get home and out of this uniform, I’ll be right back to being her biggest advocate and biggest fan. “

“I’m very proud of her and everything she has accomplished,” he said.